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Kenya sends troops to Somalia's border

 

MOGADISHU, Somalia - Kenya sent extra troops to its border with Somalia on Wednesday to keep Islamic militants from entering the country after Ethiopian helicopters attacked a Kenyan border post by mistake while pursuing suspected fighters.

Meanwhile, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni flew to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to meet with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to discuss the framework of a regional peacekeeping mission to Somalia, said Okello Oryem, the Ugandan minister of state of foreign affairs.

European backers of the Somali government were also meeting in Belgium to discuss how the European Union can support a possible peacekeeping mission for Somalia.

Somalia's government forces, backed by Ethiopian troops, have been pursuing the remnants of the Islamic militia that until two weeks ago controlled most of southern Somalia and the capital, Mogadishu.

Four Ethiopian helicopters apparently mistook a Kenyan border post at Harehare for the Somali town of Dhobley on Tuesday and fired rockets at several small buildings, a security officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. There were no reports of casualties, but Kenyan tanks were sent to the area early Wednesday, the officer added.

Residents in Dhobley said they witnessed Ethiopian military aircraft bombing the area.

"Four military helicopters flew over our town several times and bombarded somewhere on the Kenyan side of the border," resident Mohamud Ilmi Osman said.

In the Kenyan port of Mombasa, Somalia's President Abdullahi Yusuf met with his Kenyan counterpart, Mwai Kibaki. Kibaki said Kenya would not be used as a refuge for people seeking to destabilize governments in the region clearly referring to foreign fighters for the Somali Council of Islamic Courts who may be sought for terrorism and other crimes.

Kenya has deployed troops, armored vehicles and trucks with light weapons along the 400-mile border with Somalia. A U.S. counterterrorism task force has trained new coast guards and recently gave Kenya three patrol boats.

The U.N.'s humanitarian agency said about 4,000 Somali refugees were reported to be in the Dhobley area, unable to cross into Kenya. The agency gave no further details, but noted fears of newly laid land mines in southern Somalia following the latest fighting.

In nearby Liboi, UNHCR said it was trying to check reports Kenya had held 350-400 Somalis at the border since Dec. 27. "We can't confirm it because we have been denied access to the reception center by Kenyan security personnel," spokeswoman Millicent Mutuli told The Associated Press.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua denied that security personnel had blocked U.N. refugee agency staff from getting to Liboi, but said border officials had instituted "rigorous security vetting" to ensure no fighters slipped in among the refugees. Only those that cleared the security check would be handed over to U.N. refugee officials, he said.

Somalia's government and its Ethiopian allies have long accused Islamic militias of harboring al-Qaida, and foreign Islamic radicals including Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens are believed to have come to Somalia to fight on behalf of the Islamic movement in recent months.

Three suspects wanted by the United States in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa are believed to be leaders of the Somali Islamic movement.

Islamic movement leaders deny having any links to al-Qaida.

There were signs that the Islamic movement may not be completely defeated. In the southern town of Jilib, a lone gunman on Tuesday killed three Ethiopians, including a commanding officer, witnesses said.

"A gunman shouting 'Allahu Akbar' attacked Ethiopian soldiers in Jilib town and killed three soldiers," businessman Muhuyadin Sheik Ibrahim said. "He attacked the soldiers three different times morning, afternoon and evening. He escaped the first two attacks by foot but was killed in the last one."

Ibrahim said the attacker was one of 11 Islamic fighters who had stayed behind to launch such attacks, but that the other 10 had surrendered and returned to Mogadishu.

Islamic courts officials could not immediately be reached to confirm the report. Ethiopian officials declined to comment.

Somalia faces health catastrophe as war destroys care system

MOGADISHU (AFP) - Somalia, where malaria, cholera and tuberculosis are endemic, is threatened by a health catastrophe after 16 years of continuous fighting that destroyed its care system, a senior health official has warned.

"The country's health infrastructure has been shattered following the protracted civil strife in the country," said Dr Osman Dufle, Vice-President of of the National Committee for Health Emergency Services on Wednesday.

"The extremely limited capacity of the health ministry to deliver health care and the increasing need for this care as a result of the widespread poverty and deprivation makes the country fertile soil for the spread of all kinds of diseases and ill-health," warned Dufle, formerly a junior health minister in Somalia's transitional government.

Cholera, malaria and tuberculosis are rife in the east African country, one of the poorest in the world, with an estimated 300,000 victims of civil war begun in 1991 when the country disintegrated into lawlessness with the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and was divided among warlords.

On Tuesday, its weak central government said it had full control of territories wrested from Islamists with neighbouring Ethiopia's military help after nearly two weeks of artillery duels that convulsed the Horn of Africa nation.

But analysts have warned that the fall of the Islamists, who ousted warlords from Mogadishu last June, does not mark the end of the woes that have blighted the nation of 10 million.

"The large numbers of internally displaced people in Somalia and the squalid conditions they live in, especially in the large cities like Mogadishu is another dangerous dimension of the serious health hazard the country faces," Dufle told AFP.

Internally displaced persons in Mogadishu were estimated to number some 350,000 or about a quarter of the city's current population, Dufle said.

"Nearly one million Somalis ...are estimated to be affected by flooding of which at least 336,000 have been forced from their homes," he also reported.

Less than 30 percent of the population has access to drinking water.

"Many of the doctors, nurses and allied health personnel will be reaching their retirement age very soon and there are no graduates being trained and prepared to meet the demands of the present and future health services," Dufle warned.

A government report in November based on a joint health ministry and UN study also warned that Somalia suffers from a dangerous shortage of medical personnel.

"In terms of health personnel, the findings revealed 240 doctors, 400 nurses, 80 midwives, 100 health technicians and over 800 traditional birth attendants," it said:

"Every year, about 21,000 people are estimated to develop tuberculosis in Somalia, 80 percent of the cases occur in the productive age group between 15 and 44 years.

It also identified very high infant and under-five mortality rates, estimated at 133 and 225 deaths per 1,000 live births, respectively, with no downward trends seen in the past decade.

Somalia also had one of the highest maternal mortality rates with 1,600 mothers dying for every 100,000 live births.

Malaria, cholera and diarrhea are endemic. Few statistics are available for the spread of AIDS. The report quotes the official rate given as 0.9 percent for adults aged 15 to 49, but suggests this is an under-estimate.

The government has prepared an emergency health programme but urgently needs international aid and has launched appeals to humanitarian agencies.

European Union pushes for new peace talks in Somalia

BRUSSELS, Belgium (Reuters) -- European countries met on Wednesday to push for a revival of the peace process in Somalia, as Ethiopian warplanes backing the Somali government pursued fleeing Islamists near the border with Kenya.

The Islamists, who withdrew from their last stronghold on Monday after two weeks of war, rejected a government amnesty offer after disappearing into the hills and vowing to fight on.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt told Reuters before the meeting in Brussels: "We are keen to see an inclusive political process in Somalia ... without that it will be difficult to achieve security."

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said: "It would be a missed opportunity to say that every category of people calling themselves Islamists should be excluded."

Talk of international peacekeeping force

Both said they would call for Ethiopian troops to leave the country quickly but without creating a security vacuum, and would discuss a possible international peacekeeping force.

"It is certainly not something Europe can fix, dictate or arrange," Stoere said of a peacekeeping force. "But it is an issue where we should be able to contribute politically," he said, adding that "some kind of presence" would be needed.

Germany, which took over the EU's rotating presidency on January 1, called the meeting of European members of the International Contact Group on Somalia to coordinate European efforts and take stock of the situation, it said in a statement.

The European members of the Contact Group are the EU presidency, Sweden, Britain, Italy, the EU's executive Commission and non-EU member Norway.

"If you look at the past 15 years in Somalia it is difficult to be that optimistic, but ... we will look at that new situation and see if we can make anything good come out of it," Bildt said.

The full International Contact Group on Somalia -- which also comprises the United States and Tanzania -- is to meet on Friday in Nairobi at working-group level, the Norwegian and Swedish ministers said.

They also said they would discuss increasing humanitarian aid to Somalia.

Ethiopian planes, tanks and troops helped the Somali government drive the Islamists from Mogadishu last week, after breaking out of its provincial outpost Baidoa to end six months of Islamist rule across much of southern Somalia.


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